Wednesday, November 24, 2004

Articles of War

In my continuing endeavours to arrange the participation of my youth group in the Salvation Army's 'Kettle Wars', I've been doing a bit of reading up on the work and beliefs of the Corps itself.

Taking a look at their USA website I came across their creed and commitment. I won't list the creed, but here are their commitments:

  • I will be responsive to the Holy Spirit's work and obedient to His leading in my life, growing in grace through worship, prayer, service, and the reading of the Bible.
  • I will make the values of the Kingdom of God and not the values of the world the standard for my life.
  • I will uphold Christian integrity in every area in all my relationships with others, my family and neighbors, my colleagues and fellow Salvationists, those to whom and for whom I am responsible, and the wider community.
  • I will maintain Christian ideals in all my relationships with others, my family and neighbors, my colleagues and fellow Salvationists, those to whom and for whom I am responsible, and the wider community.
  • I will uphold the sanctity of marriage and of family life.
  • I will be a faithful steward of my time and gifts, my money and possessions, my body, my mind and my spirit, knowing that I am accountable to God.
  • I will abstain from alcoholic drink, tobacco, the non-medical use of addictive drugs, gambling, pornography, the occult, and all else that could enslave the body or spirit.
  • I will be faithful to the purposes for which God raised up The Salvation Army, sharing the good news of Jesus Christ, endeavoring to win others to Him, and in His name caring for the needy and disadvantaged.
  • I will be actively involved, as I am able, in the life and work, worship, and witness of the corps, giving as large a portion of my income as possible to support its ministries and the worldwide work of the Army.
  • I will be true to the principles and practices of The Salvation Army, loyal to its leaders, and I will show the spirit of salvationism whether in times of popularity or persecution.

Reading that I couldn't help but think that if you changed 'Salvationists' to 'Christians', and 'Salvation Army' and 'Corps' to church, then all of a sudden you'd have a rather solid and provocative pointer for Christians anywhere. I think what I like most about it is the fact that it goes beyond generalisms and actually lays out practical and physical standards to which a 'Salvationist' should adhere. I do realise that it's some of these 'physical standards' that will prove the most controversial with some; provoking comments about legalism and the believers' freedom, and touching such sensitive areas as finance and personal relationships.

To be honest though, I feel like just saying shut up with your buzz words and your over-ridden hobby horses and listen to the heart of the message - being active in your faith and reaching people - put others first even when it walks all over your own personal freedoms and rights.

"But the Bible doesn't prohibit drinking - that's legalism!" No actually, it's not. It's what you have to do when you're out there trying to reach the drunks, and you know that if you want to help them break free of alcoholism then you don't need to set temptation before them or tell them, "Well, your drinking is okay, you just drink too much - just cut back a bit." That doesn't work. The same goes for pornography which currently is the fastest growing addiction in the USA. Porn addiction has been compared to being addicted to Heroine, and even now holds millions of men, and a growing number of women, in it's grasp, killing their self-esteem and wrecking marriages and relationships, even those of pastors and elders. Whether dealing with drugs or porn, the tolerance level is zero, and it's zero because it works. No mixed messages.

Then of course there's finance. The challenge to give more and more to help others and further the Kingdom of God, as opposed to our CD, DVD or even old-fashioned book libraries, is one that is in front of us all. Coming to mind are the testimonies of the heroes of Christian faith who forsook the benefits and pleasures of this world so that they might instead bless, serve and enrich others' lives. They stand, having gone ahead of us, and encourage us to take up the challenges of Matthew 6:19-20, Acts 2:44-45 and Matthew 25:34-40.

19"Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal."

All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need."

"Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
37"Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
40"The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'"

Okay, so I'm going on a bit. My point though is this, if, as Christians we're not called to the kind of commitment illustrated above, then what are we called to, really? It seems to me that if we sign up for a faith where God Himself comes down to Earth to suffer and die horribly for all the crud we've done and are, leaving nothing up to us, then what are we to expect?

I know it's nice to recognise the patience of God, and the slow process of sanctification, but getting down to it, what God calls us to in this life is to live our lives in what others would call a stupid fashion. In a way that says, "Stuff my own life. I'm here to bless yours." That is, the same 'stupid' fashion that God lived. I don't think there's a question about whether or not that's true. I think the issue is that we'd rather ask how little of my life can I give away and still be considered a Christian, than ask how much we can give away - not caring whether people think it's insane or not. The truth is, I believe there's more life to be found for those asking this latter question and daring to really live for others. Isn't that what Jesus said? "He who loses His life will gain it." That's one of those dark truths, it's shrouded in mystery, because it requires you to blow your whole life on something, or someone, before you receive what it promises.

I don't know if I'm quite up to the challenge myself, but then I have to ask, does anyone know what my alternative is?